Thanks to an article in today's Washington Post, Intelligence Court Releases Ruling in Favor of Warrantless Wiretapping, I've been mulling over what effect the possibility of being legally spied on might have on intellectual freedom. You're not necessarily doing anything wrong but...it's just kind of creepy and distracting to think that you might be watched/wiretapped. I wonder how this affects those who use the public computer terminals directly in front of the reference desk at my library. Even though we don't monitor what people do on the computers, they are located (intentionally I believe) where others are constantly walking by and, as I said, right in front of the ref desk.
In the past, we had no restrictions on our public computer terminals (and they weren't so centrally located) but this really didn't work out very well. It actually impeded public access to the collection because the public computers would be tied up (for hours, sometimes all day) by people working on their My Space page or whatever. That's OK, but My Space isn't part of the collection. Public users who needed to use a computer to access one of our databases were sometimes just out of luck.
So now public users get one hour per day and they are in a high traffic location. I don't think that 1 hour per day is really enough but people seem to accept it. For myself, I want a quiet, out-of-the-way spot to do research and LOTS of time to do it. I also think that it wouldn't change anything I do if I thought someone might be watching but then, I would consider it a matter of prinicle to carry on regardless. I think that the possibility of being watched does change the research some people do (or decide not to do) in libraries.